I held a green apple in the valley between my hands, allowing it to roll gently through my fingertips. It lolled playfully, the pale patterned skin of my hands caressing its taut, smooth emerald jacket. I took the apple, holding it by its poles between thumb and forefinger. I poised my right hand, hovering above the small hard globe and flicked it. A moment’s pleasure flickered across my face, pleased with the resounding ‘ticuk’ the apple made. I flicked it twice more in rapid succession just to make sure the apple was right. ‘Ticuk’. “Ticuk’.
Applying a gentle force I began to twist the stem.
“A, B, C, D”, I counted with each revolution of the stem. A friend had told me years before that whatever letter you were on when the stem broke away would be the first letter of your wife’s name. I’d spent a lifetime since manipulating apple stems to suit the name of every infatuation.
“Q, R, S”, the stem snapped. I raised the stem to my mouth, bit it tentatively then flicked it to my right, away from the girl.
She had missed the entire display. Her moment’s curiosity had faded as quickly as it had appeared and she had returned to the textbook lying in her lap, splayed out like a flat lazy cat. Her small plimsolled feet poked out from beneath her, held firmly against the torn leather of the couch. She brushed a mousy brown lock from a blue eye as I thought about taking a greedy bite from my apple hoping that she’d see and wonder about me.
“Oh he’s healthy,” I thought, mimicking her.
“You’re a fucking eejit,” I thought, remonstrating myself.
“I wonder who he is,” she thought.
I drew down my sleeve. Buffed the apple with my cuff. Admired its sheen. Inhaled deeply. Glanced leftwards. And sneezed.
“Ah-scuse me” I murmured. She peeped up from her book. She smiled. I raised a brow and smirked by means of apology. She turned back quickly to her book. I looked back to the apple cushioned between my palms. I felt a slight tingle build below my ribs. Faint but persistent, spinning slowly, pushing upwards. Like a soft, pleasant tickle.
“Right so,” I thought. With my feet planted firmly and flat upon the ground, my right elbow resting softly upon my knee I straightened my left arm till the palm of my hand cupped my left patella and my body twisted awkwardly. I straightened my back, craned my neck to the rear and felt the tingle patter slowly up and over my scalp.
She continued to read unperturbed.
Quietly clearing my throat, I took a dramatic moment before launching into it.
“O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seems to me all the uses of this world!”
I was quite pleased with the delivery. Theatrical and immense as I’d wanted it to be but had managed to retain a slight conversational tone too. It created a nice little contrast, added to the complexity. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I climbed into character.
“Are you alright?” She’d shifted slightly to face me, the source of her disturbance.
“Wonderful. And you?” I beamed.
“You,” she hesitated. “Fine. Thank you…you”, she tried once more.
“Tom,” I replied smiling. “And you?”
“Sarah, are you practicing for an audition or something?” she asked, folding her book over the flat of her hand.
“What?” I asked, feigning slight puzzlement.
“Hamlet’s first soliloquy? You sort of just belted it out there, no warning …it was good.”
The next line was key. She looked straight into me. I’d thought her eyes were blue but it was only then that I noticed the grey swirl that wound delicately about her iris. Wisping slinkily like a Russian blue. I hesitated. The corner of her mouth twitched, flicking upwards into a puzzled smile. I buried myself deeper into the character, reclining into what I imagined was the velvet lined interior of the Dandy-esque persona I had assumed. Wishing I had a hat with a feather I continued.
“Oh right” I chuckled. “No. I’m actually suicidal.” The tingle hollowed and ached as I waited for her reply.
I let go of myself and let the persona drive on.
“Intend to take my own life” I replied cheerily. She stared. The grey swirl seemed to grow.
“Well not right now,” I laughed. “That wouldn’t be fair on the cleaners would it?” Her lips parted slightly as she blinked three times very quickly.
“I mean lets be decent about it,” I reasoned. I had sped up. I was speaking rapidly now, hoping to mask my waning confidence.
“Preferably my death should not impinge upon someone else’s living. That wouldn’t be right,” I continued.
“No, I suppose not” she managed to say before the Dandy cut in.
“No, I won’t kill myself now,” I chuckled once more. Then dialing the tone down I continued.
“But I will some day. Eventually. Not now but later. I will kill myself. Not because I’m particularly displeased with my lot. No. I’m not depressed. I’m not even sad. I’m pretty happy actually. I’ve a wonderful life; I’ve a lot going on. I can see that.”
I kept my tone calm and light, not allowing the subject to dictate.
“No it’s the symbolism of self-slaughter that attracts me. I mean, frankly speaking suicide is the ultimate expression of free will, isn’t it? I have been given this body thus it is my responsibility and I shall choose to do with it whatever I should wish.”
I paused, glanced to my left and smirked.
“That’s a lot of pressure on me.”
I took a moment before launching into the main body of my spiel. She’d laid her book down beside her and she’d unfurled her feet from beneath her so they fell over the edge of the couch and the tips of her toes kissed the floor beneath.
Lifting a hand to my chest, cupping my breast with splayed fingers I rallied on.
“Now if someone felt that I warranted being given a body and a life then they must have also believed that I possessed a certain degree of talent for the frankly arduous task of living. Therefore they must have trusted my decision-making capabilities and the moral and ethical agency of my free will.”
I think I saw her nod at this point.
“In order to best express the extent of my free will I must allow it to supersede my feelings of self-preservation. While those feelings serve to protect me they are also the greatest opponents to the completely autonomous being. Why shouldn’t I jump off this cliff or bathe in gravy and throw myself to the lions? I must stand up to myself so as to best express myself, vis-à-vis I must kill myself.”
I stopped. Inhaled deeply and waited for the applause. Instead, she said,
“To be honest I’m not sure how to respond.”
Taken aback but not entirely surprised I gathered myself, submitted myself to the persona and continued.
“So don’t.” I felt like an asshole but the Dandy managed to pull of flippancy without a note of arrogance.
“What are you reading?” I asked airily.
“Are you always like this?”
“I am. But what exactly do you mean?”
“Are you always so…” she searched for the word, “abrupt?”
“Well I could be dead soon. I have no time to waste.” She laughed. I relaxed. I felt like I could begin to peel myself away from the Dandy.
“Look, the truth is I think you’re really pretty and I was wondering if you’d want to maybe grab a coffee sometime?” I was almost speaking as myself now. She tore away from my gaze. Her cheeks flushed red.
“Oh…ehm…Christ,” she floundered. My heart leapt from its ledge plunging into the pool of ice water below. My stomach twisted.
“Fuck!” burst through my head. The Dandy roared out from the ground and swallowed me.
“That sounds like a resounding yes from the jury” the smarmy bastard warbled through me attempting to save my skin.
“No, yes. I’m sorry but you’ve completely caught me off guard,” she said giggling.
“Giggling’s good,” I thought relaxing once more into the Dandy.
“And that’s really not fair is it?” I heard myself croon. “How about I give you a minute to restore your guard and then I can ask again?”
“Ok,” she chirped.
She placed her hands by her side, pushed forward on the couch and allowed her feet to fall flat upon the ground. She began to mime building a small wall around her. She picked up each imaginary brick, inspected it closely, brushed it with her sleeve then placed it gingerly into place. The Dandy allowed her to build up two levels before interjecting:
“It’s very impressive…”
“Ah!” she cried, cutting me off with a wagging finger. “You said you’d give me a minute.”
“I did. Sorry,” I said feeling the Dandy’s presence lift like a cloud from my back.
Upon finishing the imaginary wall, Sarah lifted her legs and folded them beneath her so as to sit Indian style. She folded her arms and turned to me.
“Yes. Go. My guard is back up. I’m safe again behind my wall.” She smirked. “Try again.”
“Oh,” I laughed nervously. “Ehm, coffee perhaps?”
“What? Why not?”
“Well I’m insulted. You saw me restore my guard. You watched as I replaced every brick you tore down from the wall I cloistered myself within. You allowed me to rebuild and now you think you can bound over it with two words. ‘Coffee perhaps?’ Fuck off. Where’s your art? You waxed lyrical about killing yourself and now you can’t even muster together a full sentence to ask me out? Try again.”
“I’m sorry.” She didn’t respond, rather stayed looking at me, arms folded, legs crossed.
I paused, inhaled, blinked slowly and thought before going on.
“I don’t know anything about you.”
“No you don’t,” she confirmed.
“You can say I know your name is Sarah but I don’t even know that. I don’t know if you’re a student here or just a fan of political science textbooks and leather couches in a bustling environment. You could be a Russian spy and I wouldn’t be able to say otherwise, but I must admit I like not knowing you. By knowing nothing about you I’m free to mythologize you. You are my perfect girl in every way because I don’t know yet why you’re not.”
I felt honest and strong. I spoke as myself.
“But if you were my perfect girl then it would be foolish for me not to know you. By doing so though I threaten and endanger this idealized version of you because frankly you’ll never be able to live up to her. So, by asking you out for coffee, what am I doing? Am I inviting you to slaughter and kill the perfect Sarah or am I deciding that perhaps I’d rather get to know the actual Sarah because just maybe I don’t really know what perfect is.”
My shoulders quivered as I tried to steady my breathing. She tilted her head, one way then the other. She patted the couch to her side. Her hand clambered across the leather-scape before finding the scarf thrown to her side. She stood up. Tossed the scarf about her. Flicked her hair from beneath it then hunkered down to fasten the straps on her bag. I sat still. Watching. Waiting for some reply.
She slipped her arms through the straps on her bag then stepped towards me. Her small frame towered over me. I barely looked up. She leaned forward, kissed my cheek and said, matter-of-factly,
“Front-Arch. 3 o’clock.” Then chirped “siya”, swung away and left laughing.
I snorted, largely and delightedly. I shook my head as the warm tingle radiated from the bottom of my crown pricking its way up and over. The corners of my mouth lifted upwards trying to reach the point on my cheek where Sarah had kissed. I chuckled. Flicked my apple.
Stood up, took a greedy bite and ambled away.